Monday, August 18, 2008

Santana's Second-Half Dominance Is The Real Deal

  • Mets 4-Pirates 0:
It's easy to look at a stat like career-long performance in the first half vs the second half
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and scoff at the idea that there's any genuine difference; it's easy to deny the reality, but Johan Santana is again dominating and heating up in the second half of the season as he did during the majority of his time with the Twins and clearly there's something to the notion that he goes from a top tier, All Star pitcher in the first half to a Hall of Famer in the second half.
The numbers are quite different; in the first half over his career he's won 51 and lost 34 with an ERA of 3.47; 719 hits allowed in 829 innings. In the second half, his record (so far) is 53-17 with (not counting yesterday's shutout) a 2.81 ERA, and 500 hits in 647 innings. It's clear that Santana is a pitcher who takes awhile to get heated up, but once he does is something to behold. After a bad start against the Reds coming out of the All Star break, Santana has pitched two complete games; pitched eight innings once and seven innings twice; and 6 1/3 in the other game; he's allowed three runs in one start and two or less in all the others. He's entered his comfort zone and is now pitching like the Cy Young Award winner the Mets paid for.
That he's been able to overcome the ancillary factors of the big move to New York and maintain this career pattern is amazing as well. A somewhat shy, though charismatic Venezuelan coming from laid back Minnesota to "save" the Mets amid all the money and expectations; pitching much of the first half with a manager in Willie Randolph who had a guillotine hovering over his head like a comic book thought balloon; and the increasing disgust
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of impatient fans (who booed him, pretty much saying, "we want you to be great now"); and media incompetents who declared him "overrated" after every start that wasn't perfect; Santana's career pattern has proved him to be exactly what everyone thought he was and more because he's pitched two complete games in the past month as well, which was something he was criticized for not doing.
He's only got five or six starts left in the regular season, so his win total isn't going to be gaudy; he's likely to end with 15 or 16 wins and barely over 200 strikeouts, but this was a transition year for him and he's been almost exactly what could reasonably have been expected; it's in the coming years where the in-his-prime Santana will show Mets fans and the rest of baseball why he's got two Cy Young Awards and will be in the running for more playing under that lucrative contract he signed to join and stay with the Mets; then we will no longer be hearing allegations that he's "overrated" anymore.
  • Yankees 15-Royals 6:
Can we now formulate a definitive assessment of Brian Bannister? There are some cases where it's best to trust one's eyes and not the stunning and unexpected results a player delivers and that looks to be what's happened with Bannister. A big league pitcher cannot
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allow ten runs, ten hits, three walks and three homers in 1+ inning if he expects to be in the big leagues very long. He's a streaky pitcher who happens to run together five or six good starts in a row; this makes people believe that his stuff is better than what it is even when he's getting pounded, which is the majority of the rest of the time.
Ambiorix Burgos, acquired by the Mets in the ridiculed trade of Bannister, is pitching in the minors and closing in on a return to the big leagues after Tommy John surgery; if he helps the Mets short-handed bullpen in September, are we still going to hear about how bad a trade that was? It was an evaluation on the part of the Mets front office that is looking to be correct; Bannister is a journeyman whose hot streak made him look like one that got away; he wasn't one that got away; he was one that was dumped because he wasn't any good.
  • Here's a 2009 solution for the San Diego Padres to at least make them interesting:
If the Padres want to inject some life into their club and have a chance to compete with young, inexpensive players, they should (bleep)can the Moneyball adherence; fire manager
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Bud Black and replace him with Wally Backman. Backman would take almost no money for the opportunity; he's a Billy Martin-style manager----gifted on the field, flawed off----and he's not bothered about having to try to be innovative to win some games. Backman is currently managing the Joliet Jackhammers in the Northern League and their record of 36-46 isn't all that impressive, but they do some things that the Padres should appreciate with their obsession with being cheap and using the Moneyball system. The Jackhammers have a high team-wide on base percentage----stats----and Backman is a raving maniac who'll flip over food tables and bench stars to get his point across.
They're not going to do it and if they truly intend to slash their payroll some $30+ million to end at around $40 million for next year, they're going to have built in excuses for being the worst team in baseball. They'll continue down the road they're on; pointing to stats as the
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reason for their player moves and the payroll constraints as to why they're so awful, lose close to 100 games and be somehow bulletproof from criticism by those who are themselves invested in sabermetrics above all else. Backman would probably be a short-term solution because he's a pretty good shot to pull another standard part in the Billy Martin package----the self-destruct lever, but it's something that may work and overcome a lack of talent, money and competence to mitigate the shortfalls in San Diego; at the very least, it would make them interesting.

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